Bad Publicity

I’ve thought about it, you bet I have. Hang gliding naked into the Super Bowl, faking my own death, hacking off a body part and sending it to Oprah.

Back in the day, they called them publicity stunts. Today, it’s just another form of marketing.

Pretend to send your kid up in a hot air balloon one day, score a six figure book deal the next. Go on a fertility drug binge, squeeze out a bunch of children, get your own reality show. Be a total bitch to your husband on screen and, well… You can write your own ticket from there.

Everyone knows that infamy is as good as fame when you’ve got something to sell. No such thing as bad publicity, even if you happen to be gorging on someone else shitty time.

Remember when the Tiger Woods story broke? How his wife chased him down the road with a five iron and he crashed his SUV?

Great fun. And when the paparazzi swooped in on gore-spangled wings, they snapped photos of wreckage, right down to personal items spilled from Tiger’s getaway car.

One of those items was a book. I forget the title, but guess what the most popular search word on Google and Amazon was that week?

Had I know known it was going to go down that way, I would have hitchhiked to California, busted into Tiger’s ride and deposited one of my own books. “Box of Lies” would have been a terrific title for the paparazzi to discover, don’t you think? Although, given the circumstances, “The Pink Room” might have been even better.

Doesn’t matter. I never planted my book in Tiger’s Escalade of Love and so 99 point something, something percent of the human population still has never heard of either title. To have even a small chance to succeed, a book needs to at least be known, and I’m as desperate as any author to give my novels that chance. If it really were as easy as hang gliding bareback into a football stadium, I’d already be practicing my technique.

Hang gliding technique, that is. I already have naked down to a science.

But the competition for even bad publicity is as fierce as anything else. How can it not be, with shows like Jackass and the Smoking Gun’s World’s Dumbest? You think you’re about to do something stupid, chances are good five million people have done something twice as dumb and posted it on YouTube.

I’d hire a publicist, if I could. Someone brazen and outrageous. The public relations equivalent of Kramer would do just fine.

“Look here, Kramer,” I would say. “Don’t try to spare my reputation or physical well-being. I’m more than happy to end up humiliated or covered in a rash if it means people will seek out my books.”

And I mean it utterly. I have no claim to dignity. Why be dignified and obscure when you can be naked, missing body parts and covered in a rash as you go before a new and decidedly larger audience?

If only it were that simple. But no, if you’re an unrecognized author, you have to optimize your website, query your agents, tighten your Google Adwords, send out your newsletter. Every author big and small will tell you so.

You seldom hear of a bestseller that rocketed to fame when the author bungee jumped naked onto the set of Oprah (putting that idea on my list.) Instead, you hear how John Grisham sold books out of the trunk of his car before he was recognized. You hear how Stephen King sold his short stories just when he needed money for his kids’ medicine. You hear how Anne Rice ripped out the throat of a hobo midget just to research her first vampire book.

Maybe that last one never happened, I don’t know for sure.

It’s baffling, all of it. You have to wonder if trying to succeed in books is better or worse than trying to make it in Hollywood. Or in the music world. There’s no casting couch or Whiskey a Go Go where you can sweat your book to the top.

And so, you freshen up your list of keywords, pick up yet another Guide to Literary Agents and give your latest manuscript another polish. You comment on obscure websites just to get your own link out there and you tweak another press release to be distributed by the free services. Over and over, like Sisyphus pushing that wretched rock up that damn hill.

So don’t tell me you’ve never thought of it. You’d nude up at the Kentucky Derby if you thought it would help. You’d become a cross dresser and confess to the world that you were Rush Limbaugh’s love slave if you thought it would get your books on the shelves at Borders.

Actually, that one’s pretty good. It’s totally going on my list.

Mark LaFlamme is a crime reporter and columnist at the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine. He is also the author of the novels “The Pink Room,” “Vegetation” and “Dirt: An American Campaign,” as well as the novelette “Asterisk: Red Sox 2089″ and the new collection “Box of Lies.” Visit his website at